Reckoning with our mortality during COVID-19Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The novel coronavirus pandemic has given all of us a great deal of time to think, to assess life, and perhaps to contemplate things that we have never paid any attention to before.
In none of our living memories have we ever had a pandemic that has posed such an existential threat to the survival of humankind or which has reshaped global consciousness as this has done. Whether we want to or not, we all have a front row seat to a malady that will irrevocably change our lives for good.
No amount of money, influence, or power can save anyone from a deadly, easily transmissible virus as this one. Whoever we are, and whatever our standing in the world, we have all been reduced to one common denominator of fragility and vulnerability. Despite our boast about our achievements, personally and collectively, we are reminded that, in the end, we live in a body that is subject to wear and tear, and which is under the constant threat of annihilation.
In the case of COVID-19 it is annihilation by an enemy that we cannot see, but which will destroy us if we do not respect its presence. One thing we should all acknowledge, the virus is no respecter of persons. Thus, we are forced to reassess our mortality in the light of this threat.
Yes, I know this is not a sexy subject that occupies the mind of the ordinary person going about life's tasks. As, even in the face of COVID-19, one is still more preoccupied with making ends meet than to be concerned about abstract thinking about one's mortality. That topic is best left to philosophers and religious fanatics who have too much time on their hands.
Nonetheless, when COVID-19 unleashed its fury on the world in February 2020 we were all forced to confront the frightening reality that we could die from this thing, as we heard stories of the rich and the powerful, poor and destitute, educated and uneducated succumbing to the disease. None of the millions who have died so far contemplated this to be the fate that would have befallen them after December 2019. Even if they were seriously ill before, many might not have thought that between February 2020 into the early months of 2021 was the period when their lives would be ended. Such is the existential and ever-present threat posed by the virus.
Certainly, children who became orphans because of the death of their parents, some at a relatively young age, could not have envisaged that they would not see their parents ever again. Their dreams of a bright future with parents they love were suddenly shattered. Their life was forever altered by an unseen enemy that stole life from the ones they loved dearly.
This scenario can be repeated multiple thousands of times throughout the world. In Jamaica, we have been shocked by the death of important personalities from diverse spheres of influence. We are sometimes shocked by reports of those who are infected by the virus and wonder if they will make it. And, even if they do make it, they could well be faced, like so many, with the lingering fear of the ultimate impact of long-haul symptoms as the declension of bodily functions becomes more pervasive.
And the virus is not letting up. The moment you relax your vigilance is the moment you set the stage for it to surge. Witness the devastation that is taking place in India — a country which its leaders thought had achieved a measure of control over the virus, only to now be overwhelmed by it. So, one does not have to be too contemplative to reassess one's prospects and to look at life a bit more deeply than we might hitherto have.
I am not speaking of mortality in any strict religious sense, although the religious implications are inescapable. I see it in existential terms, as life is being lived out in the here and now as we confront the efficacy of the personal decisions we make.
Here are a few questions me might need to ask: How now shall we live with the number of years we still have? What are the things that I need to change about myself and my important relationships? It should not take the death of important personalities to shake the foundations of our complacency to realise our own vulnerabilities in these times. One of the things I urge myself is to live life in a more focused and measured way. We can all do with a sharpening of our perspectives of life from time to time. I believe that this pandemic has provided a good context for this self-assessment to take place.
Also, it would help if we deliberately cultivate a culture of patience with other people. We are a world in a mad rush, and we live pretty much in a 'microwave' environment of instant gratification. We are hooked up to various technological gadgets and social media as if we are in a perpetual intensive care unit. We sweat the small stuff when we should be more concerned about the deeper things of life. We get angry and impatient when things do not work out the way we want them to.
I am no social anthropologist, but for me it is not difficult to see this anger and impatience at the root of a lot of our social ills as manifested in violence and the general breakdown of social relationships. We certainly see it at the core of the causes leading to marital strife. It may be wise to ponder that most of the things that we worry or become impatient about never happen. And, if they do, they never happen exactly the way we worried about them. Worrying about the unknown creates anxiety and ends up hurting the important people in our lives. The simple things in life bring the greatest rewards.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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